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Neuroscience. 2011 Dec 15;198:152-70. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2011.09.069. Epub 2011 Oct 13.

A hypothesis for basal ganglia-dependent reinforcement learning in the songbird.

Author information

  • 1McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139, USA. fee@mit.edu

Erratum in

  • Neuroscience. 2013 Dec 26;255:301.

Abstract

Most of our motor skills are not innately programmed, but are learned by a combination of motor exploration and performance evaluation, suggesting that they proceed through a reinforcement learning (RL) mechanism. Songbirds have emerged as a model system to study how a complex behavioral sequence can be learned through an RL-like strategy. Interestingly, like motor sequence learning in mammals, song learning in birds requires a basal ganglia (BG)-thalamocortical loop, suggesting common neural mechanisms. Here, we outline a specific working hypothesis for how BG-forebrain circuits could utilize an internally computed reinforcement signal to direct song learning. Our model includes a number of general concepts borrowed from the mammalian BG literature, including a dopaminergic reward prediction error and dopamine-mediated plasticity at corticostriatal synapses. We also invoke a number of conceptual advances arising from recent observations in the songbird. Specifically, there is evidence for a specialized cortical circuit that adds trial-to-trial variability to stereotyped cortical motor programs, and a role for the BG in "biasing" this variability to improve behavioral performance. This BG-dependent "premotor bias" may in turn guide plasticity in downstream cortical synapses to consolidate recently learned song changes. Given the similarity between mammalian and songbird BG-thalamocortical circuits, our model for the role of the BG in this process may have broader relevance to mammalian BG function.

Copyright © 2011 IBRO. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

PMID:
22015923
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC3221789
Free PMC Article

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